Citigroup targets high-growth firms to boost Asia corporate banking business

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Citigroup Inc looks to sharpen its focus on winning a bigger share of business from “emerging market champions” in Asia, including rapidly growing Internet firms, as part of its plans to boost corporate banking revenue.

A man walks past a branch of Citibank in Beijing, China, April 18, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

The U.S. bank, which counts Asia as its fastest growing region, employs more than 600 people in its corporate banking business in the region and would make select hirings to bolster its presence, Gerald Keefe, newly appointed head of Asia Pacific corporate banking, said.

“These companies have achieved scale quickly and now increasingly are growing in developed markets,” Keefe said, referring to what the bank calls emerging market champions in countries such as China and India.

Citigroup announced the appointment of Keefe as Asia Pacific corporate banking head in April, a new role that brings together bankers working for clients from financial institutions, public sector entities, corporates and local units of global firms.

“One of the priorities in the new role is to deliver stable top-line growth for corporate banking in Asia in an efficient and responsible manner,” Keefe, who was previously the bank’s corporate banking head in Japan, told Reuters.

Citigroup’s enhanced focus on the corporate banking business in Asia comes against the backdrop of a drop in revenues from trading and deal advisory and underwriting in the first quarter that weighed on its earnings.

Citigroup Chief Executive Officer Mike Corbat indicated last month that the bank’s second-quarter net income will be roughly 25 percent lower than the same period a year earlier. The bank is due to report on Friday.

Under the corporate banking business in Asia, its offerings include cash management, foreign exchange, trade finance, loans, and capital markets and structured products solutions. The unit will work closely with investment banking and markets teams.

In a sign of its increasing focus on high-growth firms in the region, Citigroup was one of the lead arrangers in three separate loan deals of Chinese Internet giants Alibaba Group, Baidu and Tencent Holdings, which raised a combined $10.4 billion earlier this year, according to Thomson Reuters LPC data.

“We have leading corporate champions in China as our clients ... they are now in many ways global businesses,” Keefe said. “We are uniquely positioned to help them expand globally with our network in over 100 countries.”

In Asia, the bank is also looking to grow its supply-chain financing business, in which target clients range from car component makers to telecoms equipment producers, as these firms look to expand their geographical footprints, Keefe said.

Reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing by Susan Fenton